Wednesday, October 27, 2010

On niches, rejections, and asking the question

As a goth crafter, I am pretty accustomed to people not understanding or liking my aesthetic. It's a particular taste, it has a definite niche, and I'm cool with that. Skulls, spiderwebs, and bats are not everyone's cup of tea and there's not a whole lot I can do to change that.

eeeeek! A spider!

That being said, staying true to my style sometimes results in a "which of these things is not like the other?" situation at craft fairs. I can't help but stand out like a black thumb among other crafters whose work looks more like what Etsy regularly champions on its front page. Depending on what neighborhood the show's in and what demographic it serves, being different can be a plus, or a HUGE minus. I had more than a few customers giggling or snarking at my Halloween-tastic displays at a recent show (and, the show was in October, for heaven's sake! I mean, sure, I follow Ministry's edict that "every day is Halloween," but aren't spooky things the norm at this time of year?).

And, I was positive that my aesthetic was the reason for the big fat no I got last week when I applied to the Renegade Craft Fair for the first time. I've shopped at the Renegade shows -- which are huge, filled with amazing handmade wares, and lucrative for sellers -- on many occasions and have never seen much that resembles my work. That's also true of the brick-and-mortar store they have here in Chicago. I've always sort of viewed the Renegade folks in the same way I viewed the cool crowd in high school -- something I'd love to be a part of, but probably would never attain because I don't really fit in with them.

So, I figured that getting accepted to their show was a long shot in the extreme, but applied anyway. When the rejection email came, I believe my direct quote (edited for a family audience) was, "yep, I got rejected -- and in other news, the pope's Catholic and bears poop in the woods!"

My fellow Chicago crafter Kelli of Greenie Bean Recycle recently wrote a great blog post about getting up the nerve to email the Renegade coordinators to ask why she was rejected from their upcoming holiday show, and getting some useful feedback from them. To be honest, it had never occurred to me to do the same. I assumed I knew -- they obviously were creeped out by the freak with the skulls and bats! After reading her post, though, I decided to suck it up and write a very polite email, asking them what I might do differently to improve my chances in future years. I figured that, if nothing else, they might tell me "sorry, we don't like goth stuff" and then I'd know not to spend my energy (and $25 nonrefundable application fee) applying in future years.

I heard back from them today, and to my utter shock, I was completely wrong about why I didn't get in. Here's a recap of what they said:

1. Their main reason is that jewelry is their most saturated category (which is also true on Etsy and pretty much everywhere), and they strictly cap the number of jewelry sellers. They said I might do better at their September show where there are more vendor spaces.

2. I should consider using less of certain materials that they felt were a little too mainstream. The materials they objected to are not items I HAVE to use. I can find alternatives and perhaps work up a new line that does not depend on them.

Interestingly, the materials they had issues with were not in the photos I submitted with my application, though they are all over my shop. This is really valuable information -- they will not just look at whatever photos you've cherrypicked for your application. If they ask for your shop URL, they will scrutinize your whole shop. In retrospect, I might've temporarily deactivated the handful of pieces that I'm not terribly happy with but am leaving in my shop until after the holidays in hopes they'll find the right buyer-- this line of bracelets, for example. But, I wouldn't deactivate too much, because they noted that my shop was well-stocked. Good to know that they look for that too!

3. Here's the point that practically made me fall over in shock: "I think style-wise that your work is pretty close to our vision of 'renegade crafts'.... I think you're doing really cool things with chains and I like the updated-victorian/gothic vibe!" What? You mean they really weren't pointing and laughing at the freaky black-clad girl and her weird crafts? ;)

So, lessons learned:

*Never assume -- it makes an ass... oh, you know the rest. :)

* Don't be afraid to ask the hard questions. The people who run these big shows are people too, not gods. They put their pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else, and I believe most of them do genuinely want to see us succeed. (And if you encounter one who doesn't, and sends you a snarkly response in return, is that someone you really want to do business with?)

* The crafting community isn't high school, though sometimes it might feel that way, and there's room for a lot of unique styles and aesthetics. I need to let go of the assumption that every rejection, Etsy dry spell, or unsuccessful show happens because I'm in the wrong niche.

I really encourage anyone who's been rejected from a craft show to consider asking the organizers why. You might be really surprised by the answer -- I was!


  1. I have to admit that I agree with you on the "sometimes it feels like high school all over again" feelings.

  2. Great post. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  3. Last year, I applied for a craft show and was insulted when they asked my friend for samples of her work, but didn't ask me for samples of my own. Turns out they had just accidentally overlooked me and it nothing to do with my work. I turned in a sample and they used it in their promos! I felt like a fool. Thanks for reminding us that it never hurts to ask!

  4. Thank you for your post:)
    I have my days, where I feel I am the only one who enjoys what I do...

  5. Betty -- it's funny how putting one's craft out there dredges up all sorts of old insecurities that we didn't even realize were still there, isn't it? I'm working hard to fight that!

  6. Daph, I think we all feel that way sometimes, especially if we are at all out of the mainstream. I think your dolls are creepy and fun, and just need to find the right homes with people who appreciate them!

  7. I am glad you shared your experience! Despite not being accepted to the market, your post is quite inspiring and made me see a side to an "I'm sorry we are not interested" in a way I would never have thought of.

  8. Awesome!! Im so glad you got up the nerve to ask!! I bet you feel SOOOO much better!!

    Great post I enjoyed reading it!

  9. Great post. I love it that they took the time to give you some ideas, many might have just blown off your question.